School construction trends look very strong for the K-12 markets through 2005, and in the higher-education markets through 2010. These projects are going to require millions of feet of electrical wiring and cabling. School administrators should consider modular wiring where applicable. It offers potential for substantial savings, enhanced safety and greater flexibility.

Modular wiring, or cable, is prefabricated wiring used for electrical, telecommunications and building-automation commands. The plans for a school building include details of the electrical layout. Modular wire manufacturers take those drawings and design a complete wiring system down to the outlets and switches.

Once at the jobsite, installation consists of plugging the pieces together. Because the entire project is modularized, wiring components are delivered only as they are required for a specific portion of the building. Sending product as needed to the jobsite minimizes loss of material and reduces sort time by electricians and handling costs.

When contractors bid on an electrical project, they usually are bidding a pipe and wire job, the standard type of wiring. This means most of the electrical system will be built on the project site with basic electrical components and lots of costly skilled labor. Contractors who know that modular wiring will have a significant cost savings often ask schools for a specification deviation so they can install modular wiring.

Because the product is modular, apprentice labor can be used to a greater extent, as opposed to journeyman labor. This will substantially reduce the cost per hour.

The overall cost of the project can be reduced by 25 to 40 percent by using modular wiring instead of the normal pipe and wire. These savings stem from faster installation and less theft of electrical components at the jobsite.

When a contractor proposes modular wiring, school administrators should ask to share in the cost savings. If the electrical portion of a school construction project costs $100,000, splitting the savings with the contractor can save the school as much as $20,000.